Sauropelta (PNSO)

4.6 (24 votes)

Leaves rustle softly in the wind, while a young Acrocanthosaurus is snoring in the cool shade of a tree fern. Unnoticed by the sleeping predator the quiet is slowly disturbed. Dried leaves and small twigs crackle in the distance, the sound crawls nearer, slow, but steady. The thick undergrowth hides something massive approaching. Something unyielding scrapes along the trunks on the trees while the theropod lazily stirs and opens an eye. Suddenly the low fern leaves are cleaved by a triangular head, set between staggering rows of long, sharp spikes. All movement stops, eye meets eye. Not opponents yet, both animals measure each other, time crawl as a drop of pine resin. Then, as if nothing were in the way, the heavy Sauropelta carries forward, making a step directly towards the laying allosauroid. Startled the big theropod stands up as fast as its mass allows, awkwardly almost stumbling, while the single minded herbivore proceeds as if owning the place. The Acrocanthosaurus makes way just in time, narrowly avoiding the protruding spikes, and leaves its resting site to the tank like reptile, which now begins to munch on some horsetail sprouts….

There`s not a great many Sauropelta models out there and as with most Ankylosauria, the different sculpts vary greatly not only in their quality, but also in the interpretation of their features. Schleich´s version is barely more than a generic nodosaur, Kaiyodo´s is not bad, but not really a toy. In 2015 Safari delivered a model that was highly appreciated by the community. Now let´s see what PNSO brings to the plate five years later.

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If the pictures did not tell you yet, the figure is jam-packed with details, in fact I could hardly imagine how a sculptor aiming for a mass produced PVC figure could achieve a more realistic detailing, dare say it rivals most resin attempts. Aside from this, the sculpt obviously follows an other reconstruction than Safari´s. PNSO kindly presents an own skeletal reconstruction, needless to say the figure follows this approach completely. So before I discuss what everyone wants to know, let´s get to the hard facts. The model is christened “Isaac” and comes with a neat short (and wise) story. The figure measures 18 cm in direct line and stands a little over 5 cm high at the hips. This renders the model in a roughly 1:30 scale. The base color on the upper side is a greyish brown with a tan dry brush, the spikes are tan with a bown spray at the base, while the sides of the head and the lower flanks are a light brick red and the underside a creamwhite.

Okay…. do you replace your Safari Sauropelta or do you not? The main characteristic of Ankylosauria genuses and species is obviously their armory, bones, plates, spikes, scutes, clubs, you name it. Now, with all this assive and heavy stuff, one could thinks that these animals made for great fossils all the way through their history. But that is obviosly not the case. There are examples for excellent preservation to a degree, that there almost can´t be any debate about some traits (Click!). But for most Ankylosauria there´s only fragmentary remains and a lot of discussion and interpretation of their appearance. So also for Sauropelta. Characteristics we take for granted are a triangular head, tapering towards the snout. The top of the head was heavily armored and scutes protruded from its postorbital and jugal bones. Two rows of spikes an along the sides of the neck, increasing in size towards the body. A sacral shield protected the hips and ossified tendons stabilzed the tail. Let us limit the facts here, to avoid goin´ too deep and not having the according literature at hand.

Surprisingly, Safari´s and PNSO´s figures are of the same size and basically also proportions (…remember, we had that same surprising case with Safari´s and Schleich´s Tyrannosaurus (2018)?!). Let´s begin with the head. Despite being of same width and length, PNSO transports the impression of armored massiveness better. The neck and shoulder is now were the real fun starts. A point goes to PNSO for fusing the bases of the pairs of spikes along each side of the neck, which the Safari lacks. The most obvious difference between both figure, the placement of the largest spikes must remain unsettled though. I could not find sure evidence for any of the positions. Personally I think the PNSO interpretation (not only theirs) is more reasonable, as these spikes probably developed for physical intraspecific competition rather than defence. If you like the “fend off predators”-theory more, you`d probably rather support the Safari. The shorter front legs and the sacral shield are support for the reconstruction of an arched back, resulting in the stooped appearance of the PNSO, resembling an armadillo somewhat, while the Safari has a quite straight back. The sculpt of the feet themselves varies greatly in both interpretations, but I think the PNSO transports the heavyness of the animal better. Now, the tail is again of great difference. While it seems there was only one row of triangular scutes along the sides of the tail, I reall like the looks of the double row as in the Safari and the Safari surely succeeds in giving the impression of a relatively stiff tail.

Eventually it is a hard decision. Safari dared an scelidosaurus-like approach with a fairly athletic sculpt, while PNSO went with the heavy tank variant. Though I like the PNSO more for its ultrarealistic sculpting details and overall look, I will keep both and probably display them together as an example on how different two interpretations of the same animal can be, despite sharing size, scale and proportions….. what do you think?

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Comments 7

  • I think this is a great example of two figures who can both be “scientifically accurate” while still having substantial differences based on the choices made. Especially on a dinosaur like Sauropelta where most people have a specific image of what they think it looked like. It’s not such a controversial dinosaur as say, Spinosaurus, but there are still huge areas where things remain uncertain.

    • Yeah, agreed. Given how infrequently osteoderms are found in situ, it’s hard to exclude possible arrangements. I feel the same way about the PNSO vs. Safari Ankylosaurus figures.

  • Another masterpiece!

  • Beautiful model that sadly was a casualty of the whole shipping fiasco for me! I never got my order.
    I may have to wait later and just enjoy the model for now via yours and others photos.
    Great review and nice Acro cameo!
    I’m surprised that it was so small!

  • Elated for the opportunity to collect another quality Nodosaurid since they are generally forgotten in favor of their Ankylosaur cousins. It pairs nicely with the SAFARI model. Both are marvelous interpretations of the genus however, the unimaginative paint scheme relegates the brilliant sculpt by Doug Watson to “toy” status rather than a collectable. The lack of contrast from top to sides is just unimaginative, and the one figure that would have benefited greatly from a dark wash or dry brush has neither. The details of such meticulous sculpting could have showcased the differences in the scutes of the thoracic area and the osteoderms that cover the sacral shield. In the case of these two figures, the paint scheme determines which sits on a shelf or in the bottom of a toy bin.

  • PNSO’s sauropelta is an enriching insight into the toy dinosaur figure market is a version that complements Doug Watson’s version of Safari. Honestly, it is a figure a little small but very well sculpted, painted with touches of realistic and conservative paint and on the other hand it is a figure intended for the world of collecting rather than the world of toys. Highly recommended.

  • Great review. The position of the shoulder spikes is an interesting question; Borealopelta had its spikes oriented just a bit below the horizontal, but it’s not Sauropelta’s closest relative, so the inference we can draw from that is limited. From published information, I can’t find anything definitive on this and it might be unknowable. I believe Mr. Watson consulted with Kenneth Carpenter on the design of the Safari figure, which might have given him insights that aren’t in the literature. But of course that was before the publication of Borealopelta!

    This is pure speculation on my part, but in the event a nodosaurid hunkered down in defense, a more dorsally oriented spine could offer a large theropod a better lever to overturn the animal than a more ventrally oriented spine would.

    Finally, the mention of Tenontosaurus in PNSO’s vignette makes me wish for a version of that genus from them!

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